Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lady Vols start season at top of coaches' poll

The Tennessee women's basketball team, seeking to defend its NCAA title and add an eighth championship in the sport, starts the season with the No. 1 ranking in the USA TODAY/ESPN Top 25 Coaches' Poll.

The Lady Volunteers return All-American Candace Parker, the leading contender for player of the year, and three other starters from a team that went 34-3. The only significant loss for the Vols is Sidney Spencer, the team's best three-point shooter who had an impressive rookie season with the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.

Tennessee isn't the only team loaded with veterans. No. 2 Connecticut has everyone back from a team that was one victory from the Final Four.

No. 3 Rutgers has all starters and key reserves from the team that lost the title game 59-46 to Tennessee.

No. 4 Maryland has four starters from its 2006 NCAA title team.

No. 5 LSU returns all starters from a team that went to its fourth consecutive Final Four.

Parker, a 6-4 redshirt junior, could be better than ever after an offseason that included helping the U.S. national team qualify for next summer's Beijing Olympics and practicing with her brother, Anthony, and fiancé, Shelden Williams, both NBA players.

"She's a lot stronger," Tennessee coach Pat Summitt says. "She's a lot more aggressive to the basket. The next best thing that happened to her game was working on her perimeter skills. Her outside game's the best it's ever been."

Parker's cast includes point guard Shannon Bobbitt, shooting guard Alexis Hornbuckle, center Niki Anosike and two freshmen post players, Vicki Baugh and Kelly Cain, who should boost the team's rebounding ability.

Could Tennessee, whose schedule includes Rutgers, LSU and No. 6 Oklahoma, be better than last year?

"I think we could be better in terms of our depth and our size in the post," Summitt said. "We added two shooters (Angie Bjorklund, Sydney Smallbone), but we know they're freshmen. But with our schedule they won't be freshmen for long."

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Lady Vols prepare for U.S. team

Summitt implores fans to show respect; Lawson, Moore return

The U.S. national team roster gives Tennessee fuel for thought this week in preparing for their women's basketball exhibition game.

UT coach Pat Summitt also wants to give the fans something to think about in advance of the 3 p.m. tipoff Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena.

The 10-player U.S. roster for its eight-game college tour is headlined by center Lisa Leslie, a three-time Olympic gold medalist. The lineup also includes former Tennessee guards Kara Lawson and Loree Moore.

As if there's not enough size, experience and talent to worry about, Summitt also is concerning herself with history. A trio of former Connecticut players will be here, including Diana Taurasi, who was a target of the locals' ire during her collegiate career.

Her comments this summer regarding UT's decision to end its regular-season series with UConn and the possible circumstances involved were as endearing to Lady Vols fans as one of her long jumpers.

With this legacy in mind, Summitt wants to remind everyone that Taurasi won't be wearing Husky blue on this trip but rather red, white and blue.

"While we're competing against players that have obviously played against us in the past, now they're representing our country,'' Summitt said. "I'll be very disappointed if we don't respect what these young women are doing and how they're representing our country."

Summitt was reminded of the warm reception Lawson and Lady Vol Candace Parker received while playing for the U.S. in an exhibition against Australia in August in Uncasville, Conn., as a warmup for the FIBA Americas tournament."

"We need to show the same sportsmanship,'' Summitt said.

On the other hand, she doesn't want Taurasi and Co. to go easy on her team. Summitt is hoping for just the opposite.

"The timing is great,'' she said. "We'll know a lot more about what we're about."

From Summitt's standpoint, the Lady Vols are not about consistency in their practice preparations for the upcoming season, which opens for real against Chattanooga on Nov. 11.

"There doesn't seem to be the sense of urgency that needs to be there,'' said Summitt after Monday's practice, which she described as average at best. "We tend to turn it on when we need to turn it on."

The Lady Vols continue to practice without freshman center Kelley Cain (concussion) and senior wing Alberta Auguste (calf contusion). There's no word on when they will be back, but their status for Sunday doesn't look promising, which diminishes UT's size, athleticism and depth.

In the meantime, Summitt seems more concerned with UT's leadership, which she described as inconsistent with the exception of senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle.

"It's important for the people who have leadership skills to be consistent day-in and day-out,'' Summitt said.

If it's an early wake-up call the Lady Vols need, they will get one on Sunday.

"(It's) a team this team respects,'' Summitt said of the U.S. squad, "a team full of proven player. It has a great mix that will challenge us."

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Feeling better? Parker dunks in practice

Just two days removed from an x-ray on an injured right shoulder, Tennessee star Candace Parker felt good enough to dunk during the Lady Vols practice on Friday.

UT coach Pat Summitt was talking to Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols associate athletics director for sports medicine, when Parker threw down during a shooting drill. Summitt recounted Moshak turned to her and matter-of-factly saying, “Her shoulder must be OK”

Must be. The only discomfort Parker was feeling was embarrassment.

“She came over and said, ‘I forgot,’ ” Summitt said. “We all started laughing.”

While Parker is feeling better, two other Lady Vols are not. Freshman Kelley Cain, who is recovering from a concussion suffered a week, did some conditioning work with Moshak and strength & conditioning coach Heather Mason, but then didn’t feel good enough to practice.

The downtime is amounted to valuable practice time lost for the 6-foot-6 center. Tennessee’s exhibition opener is Nov. 4 against the U.S. national team.

“The good thing is she’s smart,” Summitt said. “She has a good feel for the game. She seems to be a quick learner. It’s getting her behind physically.”

Senior wing player Alberta Auguste also remained sidelined with a right calf contusion. She’s listed as day to day.

Freshman Angie Bjorklund continues to perform well at both ends of the floor and is making a strong push for the lone opening in the starting lineup. Bjorklund arrived here with a strong offensive resume but Summitt said Bjorklund’s defensive play, “is pretty advanced for a freshman.”

“She’s a solid defender,’’ Summitt said, “because she’s light on her feet.”

For the time being, Summitt said that she’s inclined to use Alexis Hornbuckle more as a backup point guard and allow freshman Sydney Smallbone to get comfortable at off guard.

“I could tell Sydney had so much to think about,’’ Summitt said of working Smallbone at the point. “She just needs to go and play.”

Friday, October 26, 2007

Parker does some shooting

Candace Parker went through non-contact work and did some shooting at Tennessee’s practice on Wednesday night, the same day the redshirt junior forward had an X-ray on her right shoulder that was negative.

“She wasn’t as sore as I expected her to be,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said of Parker, who injured the shoulder on Tuesday. “She’s still got some tenderness, but she shot the ball pretty well.”

Center Kelley Cain (concussion) took part in the first 45 minutes of practice. Alberta Auguste (calf contusion) remained sidelined.

The Lady Vols were off Thursday and return to practice today.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Parker to have X-ray on shoulder

Tennessee received an injury scare regarding star player Candace Parker Wednesday afternoon.

The Lady Vols hope that’s all they’re dealing with after the 6-foot-5 redshirt junior walked off the court holding her right shoulder toward the end of the team practice at Pratt Pavilion.

Jenny Moshak, the Lady Vols’ assistant athletics director for sports medicine, said after practice that she was uncertain about Parker’s condition. Moshak said Parker would see team physician Dr. Rebecca Morgan today and have an X-ray.

“(Jenny) didn’t seem overly concerned, but we’ll err on the side of caution and go have it checked out,’’ UT coach Pat Summitt said.

Three Lady Vols already are on the sidelines. Wing player Alberta Auguste is out with a calf contusion, and center Kelley Cain is out with a concussion. Moshak listed both players as day to day. Guard Cait McMahan is out for the season after undergoing offseason knee surgery.

Parker’s mishap happened at the end of a practice that was much better than Monday’s workout.

“They came ready to practice,’’ Summitt said. “The overall intensity was much better.”

Poll Day: The SEC women’s preseason poll was delayed a day because of some late-arriving votes and will be released today in conjunction with the start of SEC Basketball Media Days in Birmingham, Ala.

The Lady Vols will take part in the annual event this afternoon. As is their custom, the Lady Vols will send two seniors, Alexis Hornbuckle and Nicky Anosike, as their player representatives.

Upon returning to Knoxville, the team will conduct an evening practice.

U.S. Team Falls: A day after scoring a game-high 20 points, former UT guard Kara Lawson went scoreless, missing all four of her shots in the USA Select team’s 79-76 loss to TEO Vilnius of Lithuania at the FIBA World League tournament in Ekaterinburg, Russia.

Vilnius was led by two familiar faces. Former University of Connecticut star Nykesha Sales, who plays for the WNBA’s Connectiuct Sun, scored a game-high 21 points. Kristin Haynie, who played for Michigan State against UT in the 2005 Final Four semifinals and is Lawson’s teammate with the Sacramento Monarchs, scored 15.

Diana Taurasi led the U.S. with 16 points. The U.S. trailed by 13 points in the first half.

“We didn’t start the game with very much intensity at all and we had to play catch-up to come back,’’ U.S. coach Anne Donovan said. “We thought we did that at one point, then we gave up four straight threes. Our intensity ebbed and flowed throughout the whole game and that certainly caught up with us.”

The U.S. (1-1) plays CSKA Moscow today.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Summitt not happy after scrimmage

The Tennessee Lady Vols were having what basketball coach Pat Summitt described as a "solid" workout Monday until they finished with a lackluster effort at scrimmaging.

"When your veteran players and your best players aren't your hardest workers, you've got problems. Today that was a problem,'' Summitt said. "When we started going up and down the floor, we had people jogging the floor.

"We want to press. We want to run. We can't do that by turning it on in the game. We have to prepare every day."

Alberta Auguste was sidelined with a sore leg. Kelley Cain sat out another day with some lingering effects from taking a blow to the head last Friday.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Lady Vols Picked #1 In Most Polls

The defending 2007 NCAA Champion Tennessee Lady Vols have been predicted as the nation's number one women's basketball team in a majority of the preseason polls.

Lindy's, The Sporting News,, CBS and, all gave Tennessee the top nod, while Athlon's predicted a third place national finish as the only dissenting poll.

In all, the Lady Vols will face 14 teams ranked in the preseason polls headlined by the 2007 Final Four participants Rutgers, North Carolina and LSU, who all face UT on "The Summitt" in the newly renovated Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville. Other top 25 teams Tennessee will battle in the coming season include: Georgia, Stanford, Duke, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Texas, DePaul, Auburn, Middle Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Notre Dame. Tennessee opens the 2007-08 season with a pair of exhibition games facing the USA National Team in Knoxville on Nov. 4 and Carson-Newman on Nov. 6. Regular season play cranks up on Nov. 11 against Chattanooga as the 20th anniversary of the Thompson-Boling Arena will be celebrated. The Lady Vols go on the road to Tampa, site of the 2008 Final Four, and will play Oklahoma on Nov. 15. Following that contest, the Lady Vols return home to hang the seventh NCAA Championship banner prior to the Texas game on Nov. 18.

Lady Vols loaded for repeat title run

KNOXVILLE — The Tennessee Lady Vols have the talent, depth and experience to defend their national championship successfully in the upcoming basketball season, but a lot depends on chemistry and commitment.

“Two years ago, we didn’t particularly like each other, we didn’t play well together and we didn’t get to a Final Four,” Lady Vol coach Pat Summitt said. “Last year, we had great chemistry.

“What I see right now appears to be something that will be special chemistry, but they are not aware of what it’s like to carry the big old national championship on your back, every possession, every game. Can they live up to it? In my estimation, we have the talent to do so.”

That talent includes four returning starters in junior All-American Candace Parker, senior guard Alexis Hornbuckle, senior point guard Shannon Bobbitt and senior center Nicky Anosike, as well as four freshmen that Summitt believes can contribute immediately.

Parker, everyone’s all-everything Player of the Year, is coming off a summer on the USA Women’s Basketball National Team, in which she improved her already-impressive game and got plenty of advice from long-time WNBA forward Tina Thompson. Among other members of the team were Sue Bird, Katie Smith, Kara Lawson and Diana Taurasi.

“Tina Thompson was instrumental in my development,” Parker said. “Just reiterating for me to remember that I am 6-foot-4, and that although I have the skills to play on the outside and face up and shoot fade-away jump shots, to take what the defense gives you, and if that’s going to the basket every time, make them stop you.

“She showed me a couple different moves and a counter move and helped me out a lot.”

Hornbuckle and Anosike spent the summer playing on the Pan American team that won a gold medal.

As much a catalyst for last season’s national title run as Parker, Hornbuckle has been “by far the strongest leader on the team” in the offseason, Summitt said. “It’s always a challenge to try and blend new players with veterans. Alexis Hornbuckle has done a tremendous job of taking those players aside and going over plays.

“The fact that she’s willing to give to other people and help make this process one that’s not a difficult transition — but something that they can grasp — I’m really pleased with that.”

Anosike’s postseason play and her 16 rebounds in the national championship game against Rutgers realized her potential, and Bobbitt’s improvement is something “I don’t want to mess with,” Summitt said.

In the newcomers, Summitt sees the potential to improve Tennessee’s inside presence as well as compensate for the loss of 3-point shooters Sidney Spencer and Dominique Redding.

Center Kelley Cain, who is from Atlanta, is 6-6 and has what Summitt calls “great size, great hands, great presence on the floor.” Vicki Baugh, a 6-4 forward from Sacramento, Calif., is “impressive just because of her athleticism and her competitive drive.

“I’ve already seen significant improvement in our inside game, which is giving us more depth to shift Candace Parker to the perimeter some and perhaps Alex Fuller as well,” Summitt said.

Guards Angie Bjorklund, from Spokane Valley, Wash., and Sydney Smallbone, of Granger, Ind., should bring fire power to the perimeter.

“Angie Bjorklund has a lot of basketball savvy,” Summitt said. “I like it that she can shoot the 3-ball and put it on the floor, and her composure on the court has really caught our eye and settled our team down in the half court.

“Sidney Smallbone, the same thing. I was playing her at the point and I don’t think she made a shot in three practices, so I put her at the two, and I think she’s very comfortable there.”

Hornbuckle has been working on her perimeter shooting and is much improved, and Alberta Auguste is shooting the ball better, too, Summitt said.

“You always worry about what happens after you win a championship,” Summitt said. “For this team — because it’s the first for any one of the players on the team — this team has demonstrated through practice and in offseason that they like being on the big stage and they are very motivated.”

The Lady Vols, ranked No. 1 in nearly every national preseason poll, will play their first exhibition game in the newly-renovated Thompson-Boling Arena on Nov. 4, against the USA Senior National Team. Following a second exhibition game against Carson-Newman, Tennessee will open the regular season by hosting UT Chattanooga on Nov. 11.

Kamiko Williams

The Tennessee Lady Vols also picked up a commitment on Thursday, but it wasn't Webb's Glory Johnson or any player from the Class of 2008. Instead, head coach Pat Summitt got a head start on the Class of 2009.

Clarksville's Kamiko Williams announced she would sign with the Lady Vols in November of 2008. The word came after Williams took an unofficial visit to Knoxville.

A junior at Northeast High School, Williams brings an international flavor to the game after living extensively in Europe while her father served in the United States military.

She earned all-state honors as a sophomore last season, her first in the States. Williams and Dawn Evans, a James Madison freshman the Eagles to their first-ever Class AAA state tournament last season.

Despite the commitment, Williams also said she would still take all of her allowed official visits. Those trips could include Vanderbilt, Florida, North Carolina State, North Carolina and/or Clemson.

Parker's focus on present

Busy off-season left behind as Lady Vol takes aim at another title

Candace Parker plucked three basketballs off the ball rack and put on a juggling act Thursday afternoon at Stokely Athletics Center.

The Tennessee All-American's performance was a nifty sideshow at the Lady Vols media day. It was not a warm-up for something more daring.

Parker made it clear she wouldn't try anything comparable with her thoughts about USA Basketball, her engagement to Atlanta Hawks player Shelden Williams and her attention to UT hoops.

"No no, no. None of that; none of that,'' Parker said. "It's all about college basketball right now."

No wedding planning. Parker said the wedding date hasn't been set yet. No indication whether this season will turn out to be the redshirt junior's final season at Tennessee either.

"I'm looking at it one day at a time,'' Parker said. "I'd rather leave it at that. If you get caught up in the future, your mind gets to wandering."

It's hard to ignore her future after another successful stint with USA Basketball last month and with the Olympics looming next year. And then there's the impending nuptials as well.

Earlier this week, UT coach Pat Summitt considered Parker's crowded agenda and said, "All indications with where she (Parker) is, the timing of everything, there's obviously a good chance we'll see one more year from Candace."

Regardless, Parker is putting together a strong case for playing in the present. She sidestepped a directive last week advising more rest after playing the five-game Olympic qualifying tournament in Chile and returned to practice on Saturday.

"I think if I'm going to watch practice, I might as well get out there and play,'' she said. "A few more days really weren't going to help me. My knees are fine."

At Thursday's practice, she showed off an improved perimeter jumper, a skill she polished during the summer by shooting with, among other people, her brother Anthony, who plays for the NBA's Toronto Raptors.

"I've been working a lot on my shot this summer,'' she said, "making it more consistent, more reliable."

In effect, Parker was working on the only semblance of a juggling act on her docket for this season. Along with playing at power forward, she will be utilized at small forward.

Parker's dual role will be part of a larger strategy, namely deploying a bigger lineup.

"I think we have a unique opportunity to go big this season,'' Parker said. "I think this team has a unique opportunity to take advantage of some mismatches."

Parker is embracing her expanded duties with a degree of caution. During practice, she'll remind the coaches to get her some reps at the four - hoops vernacular for power forward. On Thursday, she addressed playing both positions by saying, "It's a challenge. I like playing the four."

It's an interesting perspective from someone who, two seasons ago, seemingly couldn't wait to get to the perimeter. She fudged on her 6-foot-5 height so as not to be thought of exclusively as a post player.

It's a more mature perspective, Dean Lockwood said. UT's assistant coach said that he sees a lot less "fluff" in Parker's game. Fewer fade-away jumpers and more ruthless efficiency.

"To me, she's a little more cold-blooded,'' Lockwood said. "She's going to think about how she's going to cut you up. She knows what she's good at. She's going to go right to that."

Parker was awfully good at power forward last season, averaging 19.6 points and 9.8 rebounds per game and receiving two national player-of-the-year awards - the Wade Trophy and the Wooden Award.

"She knows when things get tight, with her at the four, unless people are coming with double- or triple (teams), there aren't a whole lot of folks who can stop her,'' Lockwood said.

Summitt said Parker's small-forward duty will depend on how games play out. Wherever she's playing, Parker wants to make the most of the opportunity.

"I think one thing I did learn this summer is it doesn't matter how you score, it doesn't matter the way you score, it's doing what the team needs you to do,'' she said. "I know my natural position is the four, but I'm willing to play whatever position my team needs."

Rehab going well for McMahan

KNOXVILLE — Cait McMahan will be watching from the bench this season as the Tennessee Lady Vols defend their national championship, but that won’t lessen her enthusiasm as a member of the team.

The former Heritage standout and Lady Vol sophomore had knee surgery in June that will keep her on a measured and lengthy rehabilitation during the upcoming basketball season, but she will be at every practice and every game.

“It is frustrating, but there are some people out there that are in much worse situations than I am,” McMahan said on Thursday at Lady Vol Media Day. “I’m watching the girls practice and hitting the weight room and working hard at that, so it’s OK.

“(I plan to be a ) leader, a vocal leader. When coaches get down on players, I want to be there for them and let them know what’s going on.”

McMahan, who averaged 14 minutes a game at backup point guard in her freshman season, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee in 2005, and has had recurring problems since then.

“There was a hole in my bone and it had to be refilled,” McMahan said. “The surgery I had before the season was arthroscopic. They were going in to see what was going on. They told me I could either have the surgery then or after the season.”
McMahan chose to play her freshman year.

“It killed me the whole season. I had to miss some practices because of the swelling,” she said.

“Right now I’m doing therapy in the weight room, single-leg stuff. Depending on what my knee looks like, (assistant athletic director for sports medicine) Jenny (Moshak) lets me do other things. Some days she lets me do defensive slides and I do a lot of bouncing.”

McMahan is known for doing a lot of bouncing on the bench, too, and that will continue this season as she works slowly toward being able to run and make cuts again.

“I asked Jenny (about running). It’s either late December or January,” McMahan said. “We’re not pushing it at all because it’s a healing process. But I’m hoping it’ll be January.”

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tennessee coach Pat Summitt knows teams need perfect chemistry for NCAA title runs

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Tennessee coach Pat Summitt knows talent will only get you so far in college basketball.

She's had Lady Vols teams loaded with stars that haven't reached the NCAA Final Four. She's had teams with six and 10 losses win national championships.

"Two years ago, we didn't particularly like each other, we didn't play well together, we didn't get to a Final Four,'' Summitt said Thursday during Tennessee's media day. "Last year, we had great chemistry.''

The Lady Vols are coming off their seventh NCAA title. With Candace Parker and three other starters returning plus a top-notch freshman class, Summitt's team is about as talented as they get.

That won't necessarily translate into another title.

"You always worry about what happens after you've won a championship,'' Summitt said. "I've sat and watched this many times: carrying the big national championship on your back. Every possession, every game, every venue that we go to, it's going to be a challenge for them.

"This is one of the hardest things to do in sports ... to repeat the performance of the national championship.''

In the 1998-99 season, Tennessee followed up three consecutive national titles with a disappointing finish, losing in the Elite Eight. That team boasted the superstar trio of Chamique Holdsclaw, Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall, but players failed to step up in that regional finals game when Holdsclaw went 2-of-18 from the floor in a loss to Duke.

Basketball's winningest coach thinks this year's team is different.

For one thing, the current squad's one national championship humbles in comparison to the three-peat. And rookies Kelley Cain, Angie Bjorklund, Sydney Smallbone and Vicki Baugh will be looking for their own title.

"What I see right now appears to be something that's going to be a special chemistry,'' Summitt said. "Can they live up to it? In my estimation we have the talent to do so.''

The first step in fighting any potential post-championship slump is to train hard in the offseason and practice hard in the preseason, Summit said. She also wants to see a commitment from players to improve daily.

Coach and players all said they've been pleased with the progress so far.

"There's been no signs of slacking off or not working hard,'' Parker said. "This summer we had tremendous work ethic.''

Nicky Anosike said it takes being on the court in a game to really know whether a team's got the right chemistry.

"It's too early to tell,'' she said. "I don't know who rises when there's pressure, who falls. I don't know anyone's tendencies in games, who cracks under pressure. We'll see.''

Cain said she's already comfortable with the veteran players, who she said took the freshmen under their wings, showed them the ropes and advised them what to do on and off the court.

She already seems to be oozing the team spirit that Summitt finds handy in a player.

"I don't think one player outshines the other. It takes the whole team, all 11 of us to win a game and a national championship,'' she said. "I think we're a close-knit team already, and we can only get closer.''

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Lady Vols not above questions

Reigning national player of the year Candace Parker returns.

So do three other starters.

They're joined by a top-shelf freshman class.

They're all practicing in the new $16 million Pratt Pavilion.

They will play in renovated Thompson-Boling Arena.

An exclamation mark could punctuate any of these statements related to Tennessee women's basketball. That doesn't mean, however, there aren't questions surrounding the defending national champions. With preseason practice underway, here's five to consider:

Are they sufficiently motivated? The last time the Lady Vols were defending champs (1998-99), they meandered through the season and paid a dear postseason price.

Early clues then were a dreamy-eyed Chamique Holdsclaw yearning for March in October and how blase the players were about the end of their 46-game winning streak, which occurred in the second game.

An early clue this season might come courtesy of strength & conditioning coach Heather Mason, who said the players recorded the most voluntary summer workouts of her five preseasons at UT.

"When we started in (late) August, they weren't a new team,'' Mason said. "The chemistry was really strong."

Mason said that she geared all of her team conditioning drills around the number eight, as in national championships.

"They grasped the idea,'' Mason said and concluded: "This is us."

How will the freshmen help? Last season, Tennessee wasn't a great rebounding team until the postseason. This season, expect a great rebounding effort every time Vicki Baugh reports for duty.

The 6-foot-4 freshman, who has increased her vertical jump by three inches to 28 inches since arriving, has shown uncommon explosiveness around the rim and a nose for the basketball. Such play could turn out to be infectious.

Fellow freshman Kelley Cain actually looks bigger than 6-6, if that's possible. She grew up playing soccer. She was a goalkeeper - a useful apprenticeship for guarding UT's basket.

As for Angie Bjorklund and Sydney Smallbone, if everyone else is doing their thing, they should have their share of open shots.

Overall, these four have the talent and seriousness to create competition and carve out roles for themselves.

What will be the style of play? Tennessee started out last season scoring 83-or-more points in four of its first five games and ended by winning a national championship with a measly 59 points.

The Lady Vols have the defense and rebounding potential to create the kind of explosiveness not seen since the 1997-98 team. But that will require maturity from the rookies and effort from everyone.

It's a worthy quest. UT coach Pat Summitt might have had it in mind when she advised Mason to have the players ready to sit in their defensive stances and run the floor hard.

Who will fill out the starting lineup? Parker, Nicky Anosike, Alexis Hornbuckle and Shannon Bobbitt are back from the last opening tip in Cleveland.

While ability will be an obvious consideration for the lone opening, player rotation could be the determining factor.

For example, senior Alberta Auguste has shown enough improvement in the preseason to be considered for the fifth spot. Her presence would give UT a starting five loaded with athleticism. But if she starts, UT doesn't have an experienced defender to sub for Hornbuckle.

Bjorklund might be a better pick for starter No. 5. The obvious reasons are her shooting and her 6-foot stature. Not so obvious is the deployment spreads the player wealth more evenly between starters and substitutes.

Are there any other issues? Not compared to last season when Summitt was coming off an emotionally wrenching offseason and the team was breaking in a new point guard.

Still, the Lady Vols need to develop more depth at the point, maintain their 3-point shooting and determine roles for the newcomers.

Although the leadership should be strong, team cohesion shouldn't be taken for granted, not with the unusual polarity between veterans and freshmen.

Maintaining a common ground ought to be like tending a garden. If they're diligent, it shouldn't be difficult.

Notebook: UT had mandated a break for Parker after she played for the U.S. national team last month. She thought otherwise Saturday and practiced, telling Summitt: "Coach I'm ready."

"It has been two weeks but it's a long season,'' Summitt said. "We'll watch and see."

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Lady Vols are a hot item

Tennessee won't be playing to an audience in its practice facility for the time being.

Its renovated arena, on the other hand, might be filled like never before.

As of Friday afternoon, women's basketball season ticket sales stood at 11,381. The total represented a nearly 16 percent increase over last season's sales of 9,855.

"For us to be where we are is phenomenal,'' said Jimmy Delaney, the Lady Vols director of promotions and marketing.

The final total could be a Lady Vols record. The only other season with comparable season ticket sales was 1998-99, when sales were in the 11,000 range. With single-game ticket sales starting this week, UT officials haven't had time to document the final tally from that season, which followed a UT run of three consecutive national championships.

Last season's championship, the seventh in program history, has helped drive this season's sales. It's one of many factors, which include everything from the team's makeup to interest in the arena itself.

"It's not the Thompson-Boling Arena you remember," Delaney said. "I think there's a lot of people who want to get in there and see it and be part of that first season."

Delaney said the ticket-sales drive mentioned all of these factors. The Lady Vols also formulated postcards and sent them to single-game ticket purchasers from last season, converting some of those fans into season-ticket buyers.

Delaney thinks the popularity of the men's team has helped create a synergy regarding ticket sales.

"With Tennessee basketball being so hot, it helps us both,'' Delaney said. "Basketball is on people's minds. It might be men or women."

The start of practice Friday added to the interest and highlighted the $16 million Pratt Pavilion. Until construction is complete, the facility will be the sole domain of the basketball teams and their support staffs.

UT coach Pat Summitt put her team through a 2 1/2-hour workout, stressing "daily improvement" as means of keeping the players' attention on the work at hand.

As for the new facility, Summitt said the acoustics required some adjustment, but she quickly added, "Look I'm not complaining. It's fabulous. It hit two or three times: I can't believe this happened."

Notebook: UT All-American Candace Parker was a spectator Friday. A two-week break has been mandated following her play with the U.S. women's national team at an Olympic qualifying tournament in Chile. Parker might not rejoin team practice until next weekend ... Lady Vols assistant coaches Dean Lockwood and Nikki Caldwell attended a New Jersey Nets practice this week. Lockwood said they brought back three offensive sets that will be implemented.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Summitt to receive Legends of Coaching honor

Tennessee Women's Basketball Coach Pat Summitt, will be given the John R. Wooden Award's "Legends of Coaching" honor this year, the Award's chairman, Duke Llewellyn, announced today.

Summitt will be honored along with the 2008 Men's and Women's Wooden Award winners, college basketball's players of the year, and the Wooden Award All-American teams at the Los Angeles Athletic Club on April 12, 2008 in a nationally televised event. The "Legends of Coaching" Award was adopted by the Wooden Award Committee in 1999, with the first honor going to Dean Smith of North Carolina.

Summitt, the first women's basketball coach to be honored, is collegiate basketball's all-time winningest coach. In her three decades in orange, Summitt has won 947 games and an unprecedented seven national titles, including the 2007 NCAA crown. Summitt's teams have played in an incredible 26 consecutive NCAA Sweet 16s, and have won 26 Southeastern Conference regular season and tournament titles, while compiling an all-time record of 947-180 (.820).

Amazingly, all of Summitt's players since 1976 have done two things: Every Lady Vol player who completed her eligibility at Tennessee played in at least one Final Four, and all have graduated. In collegiate basketball history, Summitt trails only Coach Wooden (11) in NCAA team titles.

The Los Angeles Athletic Club, one of the nation's finest and oldest private athletic clubs, has hosted the Wooden Award since its inception in 1977. The most prestigious individual honor in college basketball, the Award was founded by The Club's Senior Vice President Duke Llewellyn, who continues to serve as the its chairman at age 89. The John R. Wooden Award is bestowed upon the nation's best player at an institution of higher education who has proven to his/her university that he/she is making progress toward graduation and maintaining a cumulative 2.0 GPA. Previous winners include Michael Jordan ('84), Larry Bird ('79), Tim Duncan ('97) and last year's recipients, Candace Parker of Tennessee and Texas' Kevin Durant.

The Award will be televised nationally on CBS. The five male and female finalists will be invited to Los Angeles for the ceremony and all finalists will receive a contribution from The Los Angeles Athletic Club for their university's general scholarship fund. In early January, the midseason top 30 men/20 women will be announced. Tickets for the presentation gala may be obtained by calling The Los Angeles Athletic Club at (213) 625-2211.

The Los Angeles Athletic Club, founded in 1880, is located at 7th and Olive Streets in one of Los Angeles' landmark buildings. The current facility, built in 1912, has 12 stories and more than 150,000 square feet of space including 72 European-style hotel rooms.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The story of two UT coaches

Mention UT in this part of the country and everyone knows you are speaking of the University of Tennessee. Travel farther south and UT means the University of Texas. Add women's basketball to UT and two women coaches enter the picture. For many years before a male coach at the University of Connecticut came on the scene, Pat Summitt and Jody Conradt were the two fierce competitors fans cheered when their teams clashed on the court.

In the August issue of Texas Monthly magazine, a long interview with Jody Conradt appeared. After coaching the UT women's basketball team for 31 years, she has retired. Before coming to the main campus in Austin in 1976 she coached four years at Sam Houston University and then moved to UT Arlington for three years.

After 38 years of coaching college women's basketball, she said she had watched the program go from obscurity to a time when it had lots of visibility. One of the highlights of those years was 1987 when tickets for the Final Four women's tournament for the first time ever were sold-out. To the question of why she was retiring she said, "I thought it would be fun to have my own life back, to control my schedule, to not be in a situation that's so stressful."

Shortly after reading that interview came the news that Pat Summitt was making a change in her life too. After 27 years her marriage was ending in divorce.

Conradt is 11 years older than Summitt but both women found happiness in basketball from their early teens and were stars in high school and college before coaching became their life's work. Both built their successful careers in the state where they were proud native daughters.

In 1986 Texas won the NCAA Division l women's basketball tournament and that season they had the first undefeated season in the history of NCAA women's basketball. Then in 1987 Tennessee was the Division I winner.

Conradt held the record as the winningest coach until Summitt tied with her 788th win in 2001-02. With 880 wins in the 2003-04 season Summitt took that title.

Both women have been honored with similar awards for their excellence as coaches. They have been inducted into many Halls of Fame. Both were in the inaugural class of 26 when the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame opened in 1999.

Texas didn't make the NCAA tournament for the second straight year last season and Conradt said she wished her career had ended differently. She said, "There's a standard at the University of Texas. Everybody's expectations are that you have to be number one or better."

The interviewer asked if the pressure at UT was different from the pressure at other schools and even though Conradt answered she didn't think there was any question about that, Tennessee fans wouldn't agree.

Summing up those 38 years of coaching, Conradt said she has seen a negative change in attitude. "Kids used to be excited just to have the opportunity to play. Now I see more of a mentality of entitlement: 'I'm a tremendous athlete, so you owe me this. I should get this because of my talent.'"

Summitt must have seen that same trend at UT but she faces another negative that is just emerging. During 35 years of Title IX the total number of women's intercollegiate teams exploded from 3,495 in 1977 to 8,702 last year. In that same period the number of women coaches has steadily declined.

Title IX gave women athletes many more opportunities but it also made coaching women's teams much more attractive to men. The law explicitly covered the gender ratio of the student population. The system helped the female athletes but failed female coaches.

Lady Vol fans will never fail Pat Summitt.